The advocating of Biochar personifies a process that needs to be redressed in order to get back on track with land management that allows a future use for land sustainably. I could pick on many dubious products or techniques, but I choose Biochar here because a) it claims to be ‘green’ and b) I have seen the damage caused to soil organisms by Biochar for myself, which I can only describe as very scary.
Also it is important to note that I write this solely from personal experience of some European soils. Biochar was born out of research into Terra Preta soils found in the Amazonian basin. Terra Preta is an anthropogenic soil; the result of charcoal and other compostable human waste 2500 – 500 years ago, which produced a very rich, highly concentrated in carbon, soil.
But the detritivores at work in the Amazon basin are not found in European soils and they certainly should not be introduced into Europe either. The soil is different and until we wait many years to see long term effects on our different flora and fauna also (asides that in the soil following direct application), we will not know whether biochar is actually very damaging or not. So why bother with Biochar?
It is all to do with money linked to Carbon. European soils are already huge carbon stores, (soils worldwide store massive quantities of CO2, second only to our oceans), with peat soils storing the most – hence the arguments over peat usage. If we can use (or rather abuse) soils to store even more carbon then this is surely worth investment and thus an additional and huge carbon trading opportunity. Therefore the use of Biochar is heavily publicised by investors and as with so much else the credence, solid scientific research, goes out of the window.
Biochar is an easy sell, it fits in with many land management principles from across the spectrum, from permaculture through to mainstream agriculture. The monumental lack of research is ignored in a gold rush to further feed the new tier of pseudo ‘environmentalists’ who see themselves as the chief entrepreneurs of a new ‘green’ economy but may actually be selling a product more catastrophic than oil.
Even if any of the existing research carried out in any part of the globe with regards Biochar included a comprehensive study into groundwater; a study of wider biodiversity; a study of all potential land use and a study into the immediate health issues for residents – well, what about 100metres away where the geology is different? What about 25, 50 or 100 years time?
The cost of the research needed suddenly makes biochar unviable. So turn to lobbying instead, explain the basics to a ‘thinktank’ who write a report, following no established peer review process, which changes policy. This form of lobbying is the greatest malfeasance of modern politics and for which the only rebuttal is through protest costing the taxpayer lots of money but not those lobbying.
Here’s an idea; Why not pay farmers, landowners even garden owners for the carbon stored on their property, pay them for protecting it through good management. Pay them more when they can increase the carbon storage through established methods that are proven to do no harm to that location indeed actually enhance it; like broadleaved woodland planting? Because it won’t pay for a large brand new office just outside Stroud for ‘Biochar Global PLC’ or a new Aston Martin or meal with a politician. [A bit of digression, but why are there so many huge new offices proudly photographed and placed on the website of the ever increasing amount of ecology or sustainable consultancy companies? Are people really that blind to the hypocrisy of this, surely a photo of someone working from their house looking out onto a garden would be much better publicity?]
The natural elements in our landscape are financially viable but not through offsetting, be it carbon or the new nonsense of biodiversity offsetting. They are financially viable as they are through ecosystem services and can and should be insured for. A real green economy can only be realised by looking after what we have and creating more of it, (but I won't say here how this money is actually made, that can only be discovered by talking to a land management practitioner!).
For further information, this very interesting thread on Arbtalk involving the eminent mycolgist Gerrit Jan Keizer is well worth reading: http://arbtalk.co.uk/forum/tree-health-care/29013-mycorrhiza.html#post478050